Barefoot on Holy Ground
“And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
How does a sinner come to God? How can I, a poor, worthless, doomed, damned, guilty, vile and helpless sinner come to the holy Lord God and find acceptance with him? How can I approach the Lord and obtain his mercy? How can I come to God and stand before him? In Exodus 3:5, God the Holy Spirit shows us exactly how we can and must come to God, if we would find acceptance with him.
“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.” (vv. 1-4)
Moses drew near to the Lord; but, before he did, the Lord appeared to Moses. — No sinner will ever come to God, until God first comes to the sinner. First, the Lord “appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” Then Moses turned aside to see the Lord. That is always the order. God first came seeking Adam. Then Adam came to God. The Lord God first came to Abram. Then Abram came to the Lord. The Lord Jesus first appeared to Saul of Tarsus. Then Saul came to the Savior.
Next, we are told in verse 4, “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses.” God called him personally, and called him effectually. It is obvious that the Lord called him personally, for he said, “Moses, Moses.” And we know that his call was effectual because Moses answered the call. — No sinner will ever come to God, except he is called, personally, effectually, irresistibly called by grace to come. Faith in Christ is always the result of God’s call. And no sinner will ever come to Christ until the Lord Jesus Christ reveals himself to the sinner. You cannot trust an unknown Savior any more than you can come back from where you have never been. Faith, true, saving faith, is always the result of divine revelation, the result of the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (Zech. 12:10; 2 Cor. 4:4-6).
In verse 5, the Lord God said to Moses, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” The only way Moses could draw near to God was barefoot, on holy ground. And that is how we must come, barefoot on holy ground.
First, when Moses answered God’s call and was about to approach him in the bush, the Lord God said, “Stop. Don’t take another step. You cannot come to me.” He said, “Draw not nigh hither.” What a strange thing that is. Does God call a man, only to tell him he cannot approach him? Indeed he does!
You and I cannot approach God, come to God, stand before God, and obtain acceptance with God in our natural, fallen, sinful state. It is written, “whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein” (Lev. 22:21). Without holiness, perfect, absolute, unblemished holiness, no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Not only does God prohibit us from coming to him as fallen, sinful men and women, he warns us plainly, if only we had ears to hear his warning, that if we dare attempt to make ourselves holy before him, we shall be slain by him. When the Lord God gave his law on Mt. Sinai, it was not given to show men what they must do to be accepted of him. It was given to tell us plainly that we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable to him (Ex. 19:11-13, 16-19; 20:18-19, 22-26). When the Lord appeared to Moses in the mount, he told Israel to come up to the mount, to see it and hear his voice, but demanded that they come no closer, that they were not even touch it with their polluted hands, lest they be slain. How thankful ought to be that God does not require us to produce righteousness for ourselves! We have not come up to Mt. Sinai, but unto Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:18-24).
That is the prohibition. “Draw not nigh!” But blessed be his name, God’s word does not end there. It is a prohibition that makes way for an open door of hope, giving us a prerequisite, a requirement that will allow us to come to God. — “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet.” God required Moses to come to him barefoot. In Exodus 40, he required Moses, and Aaron, and Aaron’s sons to wash their hands and feet in the holy water of the holy laver of brass, as they came into the tabernacle. Then they went into the house of God barefoot, always barefoot before the Lord. No man was allowed to enter God’s house, do service in God’s house, or offer sacrifice in God’s house, until he was washed in the laver and was barefoot before the Lord. What does that mean?
As you know, it is still customary in Asian countries for people to remove their shoes before entering a home. It is an act of courtesy, a show of respect, much like that shown by a gentleman taking off his hat when he enters a building, or when he greets a lady. Certainly, that is one thing that God required of Moses, and requires of all, when he says, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet.” The Lord God demands that we reverence him. The holy Lord God cannot and will not be worshipped by any who do not sanctify his name and reverence him. Yes, we must reverence God. We can never come to him without reverence. — “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Ps. 89:7). But there is more in this matter of being barefoot before the Lord than reverence.
In Deuteronomy 25 God’s law uses barefootedness as a symbol of shame. If a man refused to take his dead brother’s wife and raise up children to his brother, he was brought before the elders; and, in an act by which he was to be publicly humiliated, she took off his shoe and spit in his face. From that day, until the day of his death, he wore the title, “him that hath his shoe loosed,” as a shameful man (Deut. 25:9-10).
Are you beginning to get the picture? God requires that all who come to him come to him as shameful sinners, as people who are ashamed of themselves, ashamed to approach him, acknowledging that we are utterly unworthy to lift our faces in his direction.
Another thing associated with being barefoot is nakedness. We read in Isaiah 20:2, “At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” I am confident that Isaiah was not completely naked for three years. That would have been indecent. But he was required to walk for three years without the sackcloth that covered his upper body and barefoot, exposed and defenseless. That is how we must approach the Lord God, as barefoot and defenseless, and shamefully naked, just like the publican our Lord described in Luke 18 (Luke 18:13; 1 John 1:9). The Lord God will never put the shoes of grace on our feet, as sons in his house (Luke 15:22), until we take off the shoes of our own filthy righteousness in the mountain of his holiness.
Now, read the last line of Exodus 3:5, and you will see why we must come barefoot to God. — “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” If we come to God, if we draw nigh to God, we come barefoot to stand upon a place called “holy ground.”
The ground was called holy because the Lord God was there, because it was the place chosen by God to meet this sinful man in mercy. He had sanctified it, set it apart from all other ground, as the place where he would meet Moses, reveal himself to Moses, and allow Moses to come to him. I did not just pull that idea out of my hat. I pulled it from the Book of God. Jerusalem was called God’s holy hill of Zion (Ps. 99:9), because he put his temple there. That was the place of his sacrifice, his priest, and his worship. The holy of holies was separated from the holy place and called “the most holy place” (Ex. 26:33-34), because the mercy-seat was there, the glory of God was there, and mercy was dispensed there. The Lord God said, “And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory” (Ex. 29:43). The one place, the only place where God meets with men and men come to God is the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all things in the tabernacle and temple were types. Christ is the Holy Ground upon which we draw nigh to God and stand in grace (Heb. 7:24-27; 10:14, 17-22).
Holiness is that attribute of God spoken of throughout the Scriptures by which he is entirely distinct and separated from all his creatures. It refers to his whole glorious and perfect being. God’s holiness is his supreme perfection. This is “the message,” John tells us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” That which is holy is perfect, pure, sinless, and undefiled.
As God is holy, he cannot and will not accept any who are not holy, perfect, pure, and undefiled (Ps. 24:3-5). He says, “Walk before me and be thou perfect…Be ye holy; for I am holy” (Gen. 17:1; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Coming to God by faith in Christ, we stand barefoot on Holy Ground and are made holy by him who is that “Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Christ is that Holy Ground by which we are made perfectly holy before our God (John 17:15-19).
Let me show you something of the blessedness of being barefoot on Holy Ground before the holy Lord God. When the Lord God says to poor sinners like us, “Pull off your shoes and come in,” he is expressing his open heart of hospitality to all who come to him by Christ Jesus. He is saying, “Sinners, come and welcome!” (Matt. 11:28-30). As a rule, the only time you see grown people barefoot is at home, or where they are so comfortable that they feel completely at home. I can’t think of a better way to describe what I want to say than that. — I am completely comfortable and at home with God in Christ! Find me a person who is running around barefoot, and I will show you someone who is completely confident that there is no danger before him. Look at the little child running through the grass, playing in its father’s yard barefoot, or the housewife running around her house barefoot. There is not a more siren, peaceful picture in the world, except this. — A sinner standing barefoot on holy ground before God almighty, “accepted in the Beloved.” That is the only way to stand before the Captain of the Lord’s hosts, the Captain of our salvation (Jos. 5:13-15).
The law demands holiness. Christ gives holiness. The law says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” The gospel says, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute iniquity.” The law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Grace says, “Herein is love: not that we love God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The law speaks of priestly sacrifices offered year by year continually, which could never make the comers thereunto perfect. The gospel speaks of Christ who, “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever...by one offering hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” The law declares that as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law. Grace proclaims, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” for all who are in Christ have forever passed from death unto life. The law says, “Draw not nigh.” Christ says, “Pull off your shoes and come in.”
“Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity joined with power:
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more.
Come, ye needy, come and welcome,
God’s free bounty, glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all:
Not the righteous, not the righteous, not the righteous,
Sinners Jesus came to call.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him;
This He gives you, this He gives you, this He gives you;
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.
Lo! th’ incarnate God, ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms!